The Patidars comprise around 14%-15% of Gujarat’s population, but have disproportionate influence because a large section of the community also generates employment. Traditional BJP voters, Patidars were tapped by the Congress with the help of Hardik Patel.
In comparison, the OBCs constitute around 40% of the state’s population, with 80-plus castes (in fact, much more than 100 because of additions to the OBC list). Gujarat is currently witnessing an undercurrent of rivalry for dominance between OBCs and Patidars. The OBCs are worried that Patidars getting reservation would cut into their share of quotas.
Anand Mavlankar, a retired professor of political science at Vadodara’s MS University, confirmed to this newspaper over phone that “counter consolidation of the OBCs is likely to have taken place all across North Gujarat”. North Gujarat, which is the seat of the Patidar agitation is also where BJP has been lagging behind the Congress.
In these elections, OBC consolidation may have happened even against the Thakors, who are a dominant caste among the OBCs. “That is because Thakors got too much prominence in these elections,” said Dr Jayesh Shah, a research consultant with Vadodara’s Centre for Culture and Development. But the Thakors themselves seem to have got divided between the BJP and the Congress, in spite of the presence of Alpesh Thakor in Congress ranks. In fact, Alpesh’s presence has not really helped the Congress. Jayesh Shah, who has conducted the earlier mentioned exit poll—and will do a booth-wise analysis of the elections, like he did for the earlier elections—says that the “young” Alpesh is not in a very comfortable situation in Radhanpur, the seat he is contesting from. “Congress’ senior and seasoned Thakor leaders consider him to be a newbie and do not like the limelight he is getting, so there is reason to believe that they may not have worked for him,” said Shah. That a newcomer like Alpesh managed to get around 14-15 tickets for his associates, contributed to their anger. A majority of Alpesh’s people may now end up losing the elections, said Shah.
Moreover, in certain seats, the traditional rivalry between Thakors and Patidars has come to the fore, with at least one case of violence being reported from the rural areas of north Gujarat. Gujarati media reports suggest that the violence that broke out in a village near Visnagar in Mehsana during the second phase of voting was between the Thakors, who were supporting the BJP, and the Patidars who were supporting the Congress.
Experts say that Narendra Modi, when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat handled these caste fissures with aplomb, never letting things go out of hand. But that has not been the case with his successors in government.
The Patidar consolidation against BJP may not have been uniform, with those in the urban areas mostly opting for the ruling party. Also, Hardik Patel’s sub-caste, Kadwa Patidars have been more inclined towards the Congress, with the reverse being the case with the Leuva Patidars.
According to Jayesh Shah, in the coastal areas of Gujarat, the different OBCs among the fisher-folk who were with the Congress in the 2012 elections, have gone to the BJP this time. “But that is primarily because of the state government’s Sagarkhedu Sarvangi Vikas Yojana,” he said. This scheme helps fishermen purchase electric motor boats, among other things.
SOUTH AND NORTH GUJARAT
Shah predicted some damage to the BJP in south Gujarat, in the region between Bharuch and Dang, including Navsari, which he said would be negated “by the huge swing in favour of BJP in north Gujarat because of OBC voting”. Shah said that BJP was comfortably ahead of Congress in Saurashtra and Kutch, and had not done as badly as some thought it would in Saurashtra, in particular. He predicted a “landslide”, 2/3 majority for BJP, with seats upward of 121, which might go up to 135, if his North Gujarat calculations hold.
However, Dr Vidyut Joshi, ex Vice Chancellor of Bhavnagar University told this correspondent over phone that he expects the seats to be in the region of 95-98, which implies a simple majority. “There is no way that BJP can cross 150. Even the (state) intelligence was talking about 107-110 seats” prior to the elections, he said. He predicts around 3% vote share reduction for BJP, and with that a consequent reduction in seats. In fact, if Congress reaches anywhere above 80, that will largely be due to Gujarat’s AICC in-charge Ashok Gehlot’s work. Gehlot and his team of over 200 leaders from Rajasthan have been working in Gujarat, managing all election related operations, including booth management. Sources say that if Congress was seen as giving a fight to the BJP, it was primarily because of Gehlot and his core team.
The 18 December results may also see angry traders staying in the BJP fold, even in the hotbed of anti-GST agitation, Surat. Sources in Gujarat’s business communities said that the BJP held meetings with traders in both Ahmedabad and Surat just ahead of the first phase of voting on 9 December and assured them that their concerns about GST would be taken care of. This eased the traders’ anger against the BJP to a great extent.
According to Jayesh Shah, the results may also see that some Muslim women have voted for the BJP because of its anti triple talaq stance. He specifically mentioned Ahmedabad’s Juhapura, Vadodara’s Tandalja, and Surat’s Limbayat, Gopipura and Nanpura as areas where this vote is likely to have come from.
Good work at the grassroots may also have seen the tribals opt for the BJP in a major way, said Professor Mavlankar.
CONGRESS NOT DEFAULT OPTION
In spite of all the work done by the BJP in Gujarat, 22 years of anti-incumbency is also a hard fact on the ground. But BJP voters angry with the party may not have chosen the Congress as a default option. Professor Mavlankar said that the fall in the voting percentage this time from over 70% to around 66%-68% was primarily because a section of angry voters decided to sit out the elections. “Others opted for different parties, including the Aam Aadmi Party,” he said. This would not have helped the Congress’ case.
Also the lack of a strong Chief Ministerial face seriously hurt the Congress, he added.
The rest will be known on 18 December.